Monday, August 19th, 2019

Saving Waukesha’s history


Saving Waukesha’s history

Scrima wrong about county museum

Waukesha Freeman August 26, 2013 Page A6 OpinionCapture

Shortly before the beginning of summer my wife, the lovely Doreen from Waukesha, and I attended a picnic at Bethesda Park. Correction, it is Bethesda Spring Park, although you would never know it looking at the park.

My wife and I arrived a little early so we went to look for the spring. The spring is in a bunker-like ugly structure.

A little ways from it is a tree. It is a clone of another that had been on the spot, the Dunbar Oak. The cloned tree earned a historical marker because the original tree is where Col. Richard Dunbar rested after drinking from the nearby spring, now housed in a bomb shelter.

So much for the stroll through history.

I was reminded of this disappointment the other day when I read in the Waukesha Freeman Mayor Jeff Scrima’s remarks concerning the Waukesha County Museum.

The museum is in the heart of the city. It brings people to downtown Waukesha, many of whom then patronize the businesses downtown. Some of those same businesses are Scrima’s supporters.

The museum finally has an operating Les Paul exhibit. You remember Les Paul, the whole reason ugly GuitarTown murals are going up downtown? The Guitar-Town project has become Scrima’s raison d’être. You would think that anything with any connection with Les Paul supporting the ugly murals, the T-shirts, and the abundance of giant guitars of varying artistic merit, would have the full support of the mayor.

(Somebody has to say it. The murals look like they belong in a chain of hamburger restaurants that can’t afford to buy authentic antique advertisements.)

I understand Scrima’s reluctance to offer any financial support for the museum given that this is the last budget before next year’s mayoral election. I’ll even go a step further and say not offering financial support is a reasonable position for the mayor to take since the museum is considering moving from downtown to closer to the freeway someday.

However, Scrima went beyond that. He actually called the museum “a sinking ship” and said the county should “allow it to go under.” Then, according to the Scrima school of management, the county can replace the entire board and staff that finally got the Les Paul exhibit up and running.

This is coming from the same mayor whose lack of understanding of our cultural heritage caused him to suggest repainting the sculpture in City Hall shortly after he took office.

We live in a city that is nearly as old as Milwaukee, but sometimes our city has the same lack of reverence for history as the Las Vegas Strip. In a city where Les Paul’s childhood home was destroyed, you would think we would be more cautious about our heritage.

As our bomb shelter experience demonstrated, Waukesha’s “Spring City” heritage really only exists in books and in great columns by John Schoenknecht. Downtown Alderman Roger Patton recently commented that he was happy that “Spring City” was no longer being celebrated. Are we really so ignorant that we would fail to see our city’s history as a tremendous asset?

In other cities my wife and have visited, the historical society has been a great addition to our sight-seeing. In Galena, Ill., a city with a much more vibrant downtown that never closes its streets, the historical society is in the heart of the city in the old city hall. The staff there was an invaluable resource to our wandering around the historic city.

Granted, our museum doesn’t have a story of a dead body and a ghost haunting the museum like they do in Galena, but Waukesha should be thrilled that an important historical treasure, the old county courthouse with our museum, is right in the heart of the city. Instead, Scrima told the county to just throw it away.

Some other mayor and downtown alderman will decide someday that Les Paul is irrelevant to the direction they want to take the city. Hopefully there will still be a historical society and a museum to show visitors all of our history, including Les Paul, and not just the flavor of the week that happens to sell T-shirts at the moment.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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